Keep Calm and Carry On

The previous edition of Insight went to print just as COVID was making itself felt, with lockdown, working from home, hand sanitiser and face masks just a few of the changes that we (like everybody else) have had to adapt to. But, looking at what V(AC) Sqn have been up to over the last 3-months or so, it’s not all been ‘doom and gloom’ as we have still managed to safely deliver our mandated outputs and have some fun at the same time.

The biggest news since the last article was confirmation that V(AC) Sqn will disband on 31 Mar 21. The uncertainty surrounding Sentinel’s future was finally resolved on 11 May when AVM Marshall, AOC 1 Gp (and former OC V(AC) Sqn), officially told the Sqn that all efforts to seek an extension in service were to cease. Whilst for many it was a disappointment, it did provide much needed clarity on what the future holds for us and our Raytheon colleagues.

A large amount of planning has already been started, particularly with numerous Career Managers as we try our very best to secure appropriate and career enhancing moves for everyone; but, there is a surprising amount of work still to do and with only another one or two Insight articles left to write, I’m sure that the delights of inventory audits, organising a disbandment parade, laying up the Squadron Standard and disposing of equipment will feature somewhere as we bring this part of V(AC) Sqn’s history
to a close in a little over 8-months’ time.

COVID cannot be ignored as it has affected every aspect of our lives, both at work and at home, with possibly the biggest impact being the temporary pause on postings. With the exception of FS John Fullard’s move to the P-8 at RAF Lossiemouth, at least nine people had to wait until mid-June to have their postings confirmed or actioned. As soon as the moratorium was removed though, they all moved on quite quickly. Sqn Ldr Ben Bezance (SEngO) went to the Hawk CAMO at RAF Valley and was replaced by Sqn Ldr Iain Gray; Flt Lt Trev Grant moved to 45 Sqn to take up a QFI role on Phenom and Flt Lt Dan Eaton went to 54SU at RAF Digby. Fg Off Dan Wilkes (our Holding Officer) was finally given dates to start his flying training and our IntO, Flt Lt Mike Lambert, deployed for six months to Arifjan in Kuwait. We also bid a fond farewell to two big personalities on their well-deserved promotion; FS ‘Bertie’ Bassett went to Capability Assurance as the A4 WO looking after E7 and Protector and CT Phil Burgess became Total Safety’s Deputy SFSO.

It wasn’t all ‘outbound’ traffic, as we welcomed SAC Chris Adams to the Sqn Ops team and Sgt Elton Dobson (known to most as Dobbo) joined the AIA cadre. Both joined the V(AC) Sqn family in June and whilst for Chris it is the first (and last) time that he will support Sentinel, for Dobbo, it was a return (albeit in a slightly different guise) as he had previously served as the RN exchange AIA between 2012
and 2016. Not unsurprisingly, the last few months have seen a reduction in flying activity; however, it has not meant a reduction in achievements. Our main focus has remained support to UK based operations and with careful planning, the training value of every one of these sorties has been maximised by including some form of check or upgrade (for example, Dobbo successfully completed his bespoke refresher and gained his LCR cat at the start of July and Flt Lt Roger Nichols passed his CFS Check to qualify as an A2 Instructor). Ground training has also adapted with increased use of technology to carry-out activities that were previously done live or face-to-face. Certainly in those first few weeks, when it was more novel than normal, different sections had different levels of success trying to hold meetings or briefings on Zoom, MS Teams or Skype; but, as experience grew, the results were clear for all to see. The whole range of KPIs became available online and by mid-July, the Sqn was able to report a clean sweep with all pers Green / In-Date for all KPIs.

Seizing the opportunity to focus on other areas of essential training as well, a significant number of the Sqn also completed the Cyber Foundation Pathway (Cyber 101) and Active Bystander courses on the DLE; by the time this is published all V(AC) Sqn pers should have added these two important qualifications to their training portfolios.
On 3 Jun, three Flight Safety Awards were presented to members of V(AC) Sqn. The first award recognised Flt Lt Kris Brown, A Shift JEngO, for his identification of a misalignment of the flap rigging on two of our aircraft; an issue that had it remained unnoticed would almost certainly have deteriorated further, with possible catastrophic results.
The second award acknowledged the professionalism of Flt Lt Mark Buxton, Flt Lt Ben Wildblood, Flt Lt Daz Isaac, FS Dean Wilkinson and FS John Fullard who were the operating crew on a sortie that suffered an in-flight emergency whilst deployed in Nov 19. Considering the sensitive and operational nature of the incident, the specific details were captured in November’s F541; however, within the bounds of this article, the incident was almost unique in the history of Sentinel operations and the crew, who were relatively inexperienced, dealt with the situation in a highly professional and proficient manner.
The final award acknowledged the outstanding contribution to flight safety of Flt Lt Mark Buxton, who on his first sortie as a newly qualified Captain, displayed exemplary airmanship, professionalism and leadership.

Using technology has been seen in other areas as well. SAC(T) Andrew Jones, a keen triathlete, kept up with his training with regular twice weekly group rides on the Zwift platform. Described as “…a sort of a computer game that you hook up your bike to with a turbo trainer…” Zwift was originally developed to enable training in the winter months and allows large numbers of riders to ride together in a virtual route. This made it the ideal platform for two national level virtual events that SAC Jones was lucky enough to be picked to take part in. The first, on 17 Apr, was the NHS Charity Ride with Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France winner. The second took place about a week later on 23 Apr, when he joined over 220 other riders in the 100-mile Big Bike-In hosted by the BBC’s Louise Minchin.

It hasn’t been all work as SAC Maddie McHardy-Roberts showed when she organised a virtual pub quiz for the members of C Flt a few weeks into Lockdown. Using a mix of Zoom and WhatsApp, it was an eclectic mix of subjects: with a topical emoji picture round (name that disease?!); a music round; a general knowledge round; and finally, ‘IKEA or Cheese’ (was a word an item of IKEA furniture or a Swedish cheese!?)

On which note, is probably the right place to sign-off. Until the next edition then….